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A View North A peek beneath the Orange rind

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

I see the Christmas spirit is alive and well and living in Drumcree. The Orangemen gathering there yet again to harass and torment their Catholic neighbors just in time for the holidays are part of a long tradition of marching and strutting which goes back centuries. Their name, as is well known, is derived from Prince William of Orange, whose defense of the Protestant faith against King James in the English civil war of 1689-90 inspires them to this day to make sure that the teagues continue to know their place. But the question that always interested me was how a Dutch man came to be named after a southern French city. American writer John McPhee’s little tome "Oranges," first published in 1966, explained it all.

The story starts with the Romans, who built a city in the south of France called Arausio. In the Provencal language it became Aurenja, which is very close the Provencal word for orange, auranja. As the years went by, the names of the fruit and the city evolved. Aurenja became Orenge, and then Orange. In the early 1500s, the prince of Orange was Philibert, to whom the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V awarded a large chunk of the Netherlands because of his political and military services. Prince Philibert had no heir, so his patrimony was passed on to a German nephew, William of Nassau, who became prince of Orange and founded the Dutch Republic and the House of Orange. That is, Ireland’s Orangemen owe their name to a Holy Roman Emperor and a republican.

They might also be amused to learn that not only were there Orangemen, but Orange girls. According to McPhee, they thrived during the Restoration, working under the administration of women called Orange Molls. They were part fruit sellers, part prostitutes, carrying baskets of oranges which they sold in theaters, standing at or near the stage. An orange was sixpence. An orange girl was a little more expensive, as King Charles II found to his cost when one of them became his mistress. She was Nell Gwynn, described as "beautiful and illiterate." McPhee quotes the duchess of Portsmouth as saying of Nell, "Anybody may know she has been an orange wench by her swearing." I have heard many people say the same thing about Orange men.

However, one thing is certain: if there were still Orange wenches like Nell around, the parade might well be worth watching. Alas, instead we have such examples of feminine charm as the late lamented Orange Lil, who used to display her red, white and blue underwear to any one who had the stomach to look.

To enlighten the Orangemen a bit more, they might also like to know that the name orange is derived from Sanskrit and that the Hindu word for orange is naranga. Narangamen is quite as catchy as Orangemen, is it? It might also interest them to learn that Shakespeare only mentions oranges four times, and only in passing. (I guess that’s him off the Drumcree reading list.) In one reference in "Much Ado About Nothing," Beatrice says of the Count that he is as "civil as an orange" — a curious allusion that is not fully understood. At least she did not say, "civil as an Orangeman," which would have been completely at odds with reality, at least if you live on Garvaghy Road or the Lower Ormeau.

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Reading "Oranges" it is apparent that the 1690s were good for all things orange — orange wenches, Orangemen, Orange Princes, and orange juice. Samuel Pepys had his first glass of orange juice, according to McPhee, on March 9 1699. What a decade that was! Some people have never gotten over it.

Enlightenment, Trimble style

David Trimble is an Orangeman, of course, and what’s more, he is the first Orangeman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He did not receive it for literature, mind you, and you would know why if you had the opportunity to read his acceptance speech, which has been described variously as "mean-spirited" and "provincial." However, not everybody agrees with this assessment.

Dr. Esmond Birnie, a Unionist Party assembly member, has sprung to his leader’s defense by calling the speech "arguably one of the finest political lectures of this decade." According to Birnie, it "mapped out the political journey that he and many other democrats have had to travel this century in the face of great adversity and attacks from various kinds of fascists."

Let’s look at just how far Trimble has traveled as a "democrat." As an Orangeman, he belongs to an organization which is barred to Catholics and women. For over a century it has been linked to sectarian riots and intimidation. At this time, its members are congregating at Drumcree, near Lurgan, yet again threatening to march across police barriers into an area where the inhabitants don’t want them. Dr. Birnie has a strange idea of democracy if he thinks that it is compatible with belonging to such an organization.

Neither Dr. Birnie nor his august leader see the incongruities of people claiming to be defenders of democratic standards yet aligning themselves with the baton-wielding ranks of Ulster’s Orange Order. Indeed, Trimble even proclaims that his speech takes its inspiration from the Enlightenment, from the works of men such as Edmund Burke. One wonders what Burke would think of the Orange Order or of the current crisis at Drumcree.

Is it rational to want to march where you are not welcome? Is it enlightened to dress up in a bowler hat and an Orange sash, bang a huge drum, and cause an uproar by offending your neighbors and provoking mayhem, all in the name of a 17th century Dutch prince?

Trimble, in his speech, talks about his goal of creating a "possible Northern Ireland — not a Utopia but a normal and decent society." Yet at the same time he refuses to intervene to persuade his fellow Orangemen at Drumcree to go home.

Instead of quoting the great rationalist Edmund Burke to the audience in Oslo, he would have done better to have lectured his Orange brethren on the virtues of the enlightenment, on the politics of the possible, and on the necessity of magnanimity toward one’s political opponents.

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